By José Abeto Zaide
At the risk of repeating oneself (a prerogative of a senior citizen with a fading memory), the Battle of Waterloo is an annual exercise on the original battlefield in Waterloo, Belgium every June on the weekend nearest the historic date of 18 June 1815.
In a regular year there are 600-800 re-enactors. The 5-year celebrations are greater events with 1,500-2,000 players from France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Great Britain, Germany, Poland, and Russia.
There are pitfalls in a jealously bilingual country. When a dinner table acquaintance said “Bon Appetit,” I responded, “Smakelijk eten.” My wife Meng’s raised eyebrows signaled the faux pas in my pas de deux. We were in Walloon (Francophone) territory, and I had glibly said the Flemish equivalent. My table acquaintance put me in place with a wry comment that he wasn’t sure what I said… but he seemed to have heard it before.
When my colleague Phoebe Gomez called on the Embassy (possibly to case the place), an impish Ambassador Roberto R. Romulo suggested we eat our sandwich lunch at his desk when she called on him. Discouraged by the quality of life in the Brussels mission, Phoebe opted for the Bonn Embassy instead.
In recompense, my wife Meng and I took Phoebe to witness 2,000 volunteers come from all over Europe, including Scottish bagpipers, to re-enact the Battle of Waterloo (on its 175th anniversary).
IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN. A sentimental guide swears that Napoleon should not have lost if his generals only followed his strategy. Our history professor Fr. Horacio dela Costa, a Bonapartist, blames Marshal Michel Ney, who futilely chased Prussian Marshal Bluecher’s cavalry instead of supporting Napoleon’s frontal charge. Each year, the Walloons start to peter out when the tide of battle turns against Napoleon. They will return next year to root for the French armée. Unbowed, they riposte, “So what if Wellington became the capital of a small country. Does he have a great cognac in his honor?”
HISTORY & CONTEMPORARY. We celebrate tragic losses such as the Fall of Bataan. We remember the Filipino General Gregorio del Pilar, the rear-guard gallant defender of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo’s retreat and hero of Tirad Pass. A US Cavalry officer, seeing the body of the fallen young Filipino officer by the dusty path, stripped of his uniform and personal accessories, wrote his eulogy: “We left him alone in his glory!”
Ambassador Rodolfo Arizala sent the following from the diary of the “Boy General”: “The General (Aguinaldo) has given me a platoon of available men and has ordered me to defend this pass. I am aware what a difficult task has been given to me. Nevertheless, I feel that this is the most glorious moment of my life. I am doing everything for my beloved country. There is no greater sacrifice.”
Today, we salute and honor our 13 fallen in Marawi. Among them, First Lieutenant Frederick Savellano PN, platoon commander of 37th Marine Company and Marine Battalion Landing Team who was killed in action in a 14-hour intense firefight vs Maute terrorist group last Friday. Lt. Savellano had led his team to one of the most successful operations of the AFP during the Marawi siege, discovering P52-million cash and P24 million worth of checks in an abandoned house in Marawi. He was a graduate of the US Marine Officer Basic Course and to wed this year his fiancée, also an officer, from MBLT 2.
We have yet to find a bard like Alfred E. Tennyson to write our “Charge of the Light Brigade.”
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